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Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History by Frank M. Robinson
Review by Edward Carmien
Barnes & Noble Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0760765723
Date: November 2004 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

This Barnes & Noble reprint of this 1999 text is charmingly cheap. Twenty bucks buys you a large-format book stocked with glorious color images of magazine and book covers interpolated with Robinson's text throughout.

The organization appears to be muddled at first and possibly even second glance. The table of contents is not overly revealing; the book's plan must be discovered by reading what Robinson has to say, chapter by chapter. After a bit of effort the fog will clear, and Robinson's illustrated history becomes sensible. For those with a mind to browse, it is possibly even more entertaining.

It is a casual history, filled with anecdotes and reminiscence (including a short bit by Harlan Ellison about writing during the golden age in New York City with fellow mass producer of text Robert Silverberg) and a raft of detail about the business of publishing science fiction and fantasy (and detective thrillers, noir mysteries&) dotted, inevitably, with the giant names of the field.

In addition to the must include elements of such a history, however, are numerous lesser known details, especially for fans of the genre not of an age to have experienced the Golden Age or even the New Wave first hand. Times march is ineluctable; science fiction grows long in the tooth and casual histories such as this are invaluable.

The illustrations are vivid and unforgettable, especially to this reviewer who started in the world of science fiction and fantasy after the main age of the magazines. Included are unforgettable and relevant images of science fiction and fantasy's history. One of my favorites is a long-recalled image of a space pirate climbing a ladder, bandanna and all, with a slide rule clenched in his teeth. Robinson's interpretation provides a valuable contrast to my long-held belief the image represented the mixing of incompatible concepts--a manual slide-rule with a space-going craft. He notes the image was presented as self-consciously ironica new way to think of the image.

Barnes & Noble Books is an interesting new feature on the publishing landscape. They are to be lauded for bringing Robinson's ungainly book back into print. The price comes with a consequence, of course; this paperback is awkward and it won't take much use for the size and weight of the book to take a toll on its appearance. Is the toll worth the price? I think so - and I think those interested in a casual and vividly illustrated history of modern science fiction will find it a good value as well.

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